Many local and state law enforcement have the luxury of maintaining laboratories for forensic testing. Within those labs scientists of various expertise carry out the examinations of a wide assortment of evidence recovered during criminal investigations.
Sometimes, though, even the best equipped labs fall short of having the ability to test certain materials. Therefore, scientists in those labs call on experts in other locations whose labs have the proper devices (and scientific know how) to carry out the needed tests.
Many times the go-to facility is the Forensics Services of the FBI Laboratory Division in Quantico, Va., one of the largest and most extensive crime labs in the world.
The Forensics Services of the FBI Laboratory Division is responsible for:
- Biometric analysis services—Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), DNA examinations and profiles, and latent print examinations and training.
- Crime scene documentation; evidence and hazardous evidence response; investigative/forensic photography and imaging support; scientific, technical, and forensic support for investigations involving chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials; and expertise in health and safety matters.
- Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC), the single interagency organization to receive, fully analyze, and exploit all terrorist improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, of interest to the United States.
- Chemical and metallurgical analyses and training, expertise in cryptanalysis and firearms/toolmarks, and examinations of trace evidence and questioned documents.
Forensics Services of the FBI Laboratory Division are available to:
- FBI field offices and attachés.
- Federal agencies, U.S. attorneys, and military tribunals (for civil and criminal purposes).
- State, county, and local law enforcement (criminal matters).
*Forensic services and testimony of expert witnesses are provided to the above free of charge.
Cases Not Accepted or Conducted by the Forensics Services of the FBI Laboratory Division:
- When local and state, or other non FBI laboratories have the capabilities to conduct the requested testing/examination.
- No expert testimony will be provided when another expert is scheduled to testify for the prosecution on the same subject.
- Forensic services and testimony of expert witnesses is not available to private agencies or individuals, nor are requests accepted from non-law enforcement agencies in civil matters/cases.
- Arson and explosive cases involving unoccupied buildings and property are not accepted by FBI Forensic Services (unless terrorism is suspected).
- Vandalism and malicious mischief toward personal and commercial property.
- Headlight examinations in cases of nonfatal traffic crashes, unless the vehicle involved is that of law enforcement or government officials.
- Nonfatal hit and run auto accidents.
- Vehicle theft, unless the case involves a theft ring or carjacking.
- All breaking and entering cases.
- Theft and fraud cases under $100,000
What the FBI investigates:
- Public corruption
- Civil rights
- Organized crime
- White collar crime
- Violent crime such as mass killings, sniper murders, serial killings, gangs, crimes against children, Indian Country crimes, jewelry and gem theft, assisting state and local agencies in investigating bank robberies
- Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
Details are Important
It’s important for writers hoping to offer a bit of realism in their stories to at least know the basics of criminal investigations, including “who does what?” For example, absent in the list cases investigated by the FBI is MURDER. No, typically the FBI does NOT investigate local murder cases, nor do they ride into town on white horses to take over bank robbery or abduction cases. Instead, they’re available to assist local and state agencies. However, if a local department is not equipped to handle a bank robbery, for example, the FBI will indeed take the lead upon request.
In a case of child abductions there does not have to be a ransom demand nor does the child have to cross state lines or be missing for 24 hours before the FBI will become involved. When the FBI is alerted that a child has been abducted they’ll immediately spring into action and open an investigation. They will do so in partnership with state and local authorities.
Sure, I and officers/investigators across the country have investigated numerous abduction cases where the FBI was not involved. But there are times when it’s best to call on every available resource, and there’s no one better equipped or trained than the FBI. After all, the priority is the safe return of the child.
So there you have it, writers—details to help add an extra level of zing to your next twisted tale.
*Resource – FBI and, of course, my personal knowledge and experience.